When I look back on my childhood, some of the first memories that come to mind are those that I made at a cabin on a mountain.
My extended family has owned this cabin in northwestern Pennsylvania for decades. Down the road, my father and mother own an additional 16 acres left wild for hiking, photography and exploration. I have traveled there each summer for as long as I can remember; it is an opportunity to get away from everyday stresses, spend time with my family, and embrace nature. It’s perfect – nestled deep in the woods, unbelievably quiet and hidden away from the outside world.
But things have changed.
I first noticed these changes a few years ago during a drive with grandparents in search of dinner. On our way to the restaurant, we came upon a huge clearing in the forest. It contained a large well of water bordered by various machines instead of the familiar trees.
When I asked what was happening, my grandfather explained that natural gas had recently been discovered. To tap into the supply, energy companies had moved onto the mountain to extract the gas. I wrinkled my nose in distaste.
In the weeks and months after that, the atmosphere shifted—a slight change, but noticeable. A lazy Sunday morning’s calm would be broken by the buzz of a helicopter overhead. A quiet family hike might meander past a group of surveyors. Some trees disappeared, roads were ruined. The project showed no signs of stopping.
Then my father received a call—it turned out that my parents’ 16 acres harbored natural gas and an energy company wished to drill there. For their cooperation, my parents would receive a check every month.
After witnessing the changing landscape, I didn’t want them to accept the offer. However, they explained that the income would help with my college education. And so after some deliberation, the offer was accepted.
Since then, I’ve become more and more aware of debates between pro- and anti-fracking. I’ve read about the negative side effects, and I’ve contemplated the benefits.
Natural gas is thought to be preferable to other energy sources. And this natural gas boom has led to new jobs and subsequently, a boost in the local economy. People like my family receive money as well, and it is one of the reasons I’m able to afford my education.
At the same time, the harm fracking brings cannot be ignored.
The practice requires large quantities of freshwater, often drawn from local streams. The water is mixed with chemicals and injected deep underground at a pressure high enough to crack the shale and release the trapped gas.
There are other risks, too. I don’t even want to think about the pollution invading the mountains near my family’s property, and there have already been several accidents leading to water contamination both below and above ground around the country.
In addition to water pollution, there is the air to consider. The fracking process could potentially release a variety of volatile organic compounds—including benzene and formaldehyde—into the atmosphere. And the drilling bores through rock that may contain radon and other radioactive minerals that naturally occurring underground.
While I disagree with the approach, especially in a place special to me, the process of fracking is likely here to stay. In that case, I believe that it is important for states to enforce stricter surveying regulations in order to protect the environment. For example, Ohio does not allow fracking to be conducted in areas where earthquakes are known to strike. While that is not foolproof, it is a step in the right direction.
Additionally, the quality of water supplies should be checked frequently to ensure no ongoing pollution is present. It is also necessary to better monitor the volumes of water used and the disposal of waste, perhaps as a mandate under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act instead of being handled individually by states.
States should also enforce stricter regulations on air pollution. This would include recording emissions and restricting them to certain amounts and concentrations that must not be exceeded. Considering improvements like these, no matter how small, will allow the economy to reap the full benefits of fracking without nature having to pay as heavy a price.
The debate over fracking, I predict, will continue. And while I don’t like the negative effects that undoubtedly accompany this practice, I believe its presence is permanent. I only hope that at some point in the near future a compromise might be reached that can ensure a balance between the health of humans and wildlife, the economy and a clean environment.